How to Kill Pantry Bugs
Pantry bugs like Indianmeal moths, red flour beetles and cigarette beetles can be annoying and bring contamination to your food supply. Thankfully, though, there are simple cleaning and storage methods that can help kill the bugs and eliminate further infestations.
You probably know the feeling: You’re unloading ingredients from the pantry, all set to bake a delicious cake or whip together some pasta when you notice that tons of tiny bugs have made your sack of flour their new home. Along with being annoying and pretty gross, these little food bugs can also bring contamination. Luckily, though, there are some easy and affordable ways to get rid of them for good.
Types of Pantry Bugs
Unfortunately, there are tons of bugs that love eating their way through the dried ingredients you often store in a pantry, such as flour, cereal, nuts, oatmeal, dried fruits, rice, barley and quinoa. Here are some of the most common pantry bugs:
Indianmeal Moths: You might catch these in their slug-like younger phases, but you’re most likely to spot these moths in adulthood when they're recognizable by their reddish-brown wings. They slip into dried pantry goods through cracks and holes in containers and can cause contamination when their feces, cast skins and egg shells get into the food supply.
Red Flour Beetle and Confused Flour Beetle: These tiny pantry beetles are two of the most common bugs you'll find in flour. The two share differences in antennae and color, but they're so small that those differences can’t usually be seen by the naked eye. You might be able to smell the odor they give off as soon as you open the flour. Over time, their presence can lead to contamination from their feces and from mold.
Ants: Along with burrowing into your pantry products, you might also spot ants gathering near garbage cans or old food spills.
Cigarette Beetle: Also known as the tobacco beetle, these little monsters can fly around your pantry and invade your goods. While other bugs go for relatively flavorless pantry stock like dried pasta, cigarette beetles are more drawn to fragrant items like spices, chocolate chips, dried fruits, cigars and tobacco leaves.
Eliminating Contamination and Getting Squeaky Clean
If you've found any foods contaminated with pantry pests, the first step is to throw away all of the infested food. Don’t try to salvage any. You may only see beetles in one corner of a bag of flour, for instance, but that doesn’t mean that they haven’t contaminated the rest of the container with harder-to-see parts of them such as shed skin, eggs or feces.
Next, check the rest of your pantry goods to make sure that other foods aren't contaminated. Many types of pantry pests can chew, claw or fly into other ingredients once they’ve entered the pantry. Throw away anything that they’ve touched.
Then, do a deep clean of the pantry, making sure to vacuum or scrub away any loose food residue. After cleaning with soap and water, you can use a mixture of half vinegar, half water as a final cleaning solution since most pantry bugs are repelled by vinegar.
Finally, change your pantry storage habits. Make sure that you store your dried goods in airtight containers that are either glass, metal or heavy plastic. As soon as you come home from the grocery store with new items, transfer them immediately to the containers, taking care to wipe up any spills that happen in the process.
Bugs might still be able to sniff the pantry items, but without an entrance into their potential food source, they’ll be forced to go elsewhere. This is the single most important way to keep pantry bugs out of your home. The initial cost and time commitment of making this change might be a little annoying, but action now can save you from having to throw away pantry items in the future. Keep up these habits with a deep clean every three months or so.
Additionally, keep your eye out at the supermarket. Many infestations start when pantry goods are sitting in warehouses. Avoid purchasing any pantry goods that look like their bags already could be wearing thin or have small holes in them.
Preventing and Killing Future Infestations
A deep clean and change in storage methods should be enough to keep away most of the bugs you'll find in pasta and other dried goods. However, if you’re still experiencing infestations, you might want to look into additional methods of pest prevention.
Ants are one of the more likely culprits to keep coming back, even if you’ve revamped your cleaning and storage methods since they're also attracted to foods that aren’t dry like a bowl of fruit on your counter. One of the most effective ways to keep ants away is through borax traps.
You can make your own or buy liquid ones at your local hardware store. The ants are drawn to the poisoned liquid in the trap, which slowly kills them. Before it completely does them in, though, the ants have time to bring the bait back to their anthill, where they can share it with their queen and the rest of the colony. The result is a ton of dead ants and a clean pantry.
If borax traps, regular cleanings and airtight storage containers aren't working to eliminate bugs from your pantry, you may need to call a professional exterminator to diagnose a larger problem and help you rid your pantry of bugs.
Rachelle Dragani is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in several publications including TIME Magazine, Esquire, Popular Mechanics, Futurism, and Jezebel.